Miami: A Weekend Guide for the Curious Traveler - Atlas Obscura

Weekend Guides for the Curious Traveler
Miami

Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.

Explore
Day 1
A Tropical Metropolis

Far from the beach and teeming with life.

Exotic Fruit Stand

1. Robert Is Here

You’re in the tropics, so eat like it. It's on the southern edge of the Miami metro area, near where farmland gives way to swamp, but Robert Is Here is worth the morning trek. At this exotic fruit stand (a recent trip netted mamey sapote, guanabana, sapodilla, and rambutan), you can chat with Robert Moehling himself while he cuts your breakfast, then grab a milkshake and some fried peanuts. Walk through to the backyard for a tropical feast beside a menagerie including goats, emus, and tortoises.

19200 SW 344th St, Homestead, FL 33034

Inside the Coral Castle. Samir S. Patel
Unusual Attraction

2. Coral Castle

The way back up into the city will take you directly to a glorious testament to the power of pulleys, leverage, and time. Coral Castle was built, single-handedly, by the Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin in the 1920s and ‘30s. It is, as the name would suggest, a gated, walled castle made entirely of giant blocks of Miami limestone. An enclosed, two-story tower sits in one corner, opposite a throne room. There’s a Moon Fountain, a table shaped like Florida, two dozen rocking chairs, and much more in the compound—all mined, carved, and set in place by Leedskalnin himself. This is one roadside attraction that has the capacity to surprise and amaze.

28655 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead, FL 33033

Tropical Garden

3. The Kampong

There are five nonprofit National Tropical Botanical Gardens in the United States, and all are in Hawaii—except the Kampong. Further along the path back into Miami proper, on a nondescript Coral Gables side street, you will find what was once the private residence of the horticulturalist David Fairchild. Today it's a narrow strip of lushness with banyans, a baobab, salt mangroves, a lotus pond, and perhaps the most peaceful, idyllic view of Biscayne Bay. Don’t forget to explore the house and admire the Garuda sculpture, spectacularly carved from the stump and rootstock of a lychee tree. Call ahead to make an appointment.

4013 Douglas Rd, Miami, FL 33133

More than just a gas station. Samir S. Patel
Service Station Restaurant

4. El Carajo

A short drive north will bring you to El Carajo—gas station in the front, extensive wine selection in back. This service station first added wine, then a bakery counter, and is now an excellent tapas restaurant, where you can still fill up your tank and grab motor oil and a pack of gum. Try the red sangria with some chorizo, the white with ceviche, and a diet soda with a bag of Cheetos. By the way, “carajo” translates as the crow’s nest on a Spanish galleon or one of those useful, versatile curse words for when you stub your toe or want to tell someone to take a hike.

2465 SW 17th Ave, Miami, FL 33145

Cuban Neighborhood

5. Calle Ocho

Get a little rest before wandering around the heart of Cuban America. There are hats and guayaberas and cigars and old men playing dominoes, as well as the kitschy majesty of Versailles Restaurant. But we recommend El Rey de Las Fritas for dinner, a mildly psychedelic diner experience involving Cuban burgers called fritas—heavily seasoned, smashed, and topped with shoestring fries, on a soft Cuban roll. With the money you save, grab a cocktail and hear some live music down the street at Ball & Chain.

1821 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135


Day 2
Ruins and Rebirth

A trip through the city's past.

A botanica in Little Haiti. Samir S. Patel
Market Walk

1. Little Haiti Cultural Center

Miami’s sprawling, low-slung, shade-averse neighborhoods aren’t so pedestrian-friendly, but Little Haiti is worth a quick wander, starting at the Cultural Center, which hosts Caribbean market days and a variety of art shows and dance performances. Check out Libreri Mapou (a Creole-French-English bookstore) next door or duck into an unusual botanica. If you’re there in the evening, swing by the city’s classic, rough-and-tumble punk bar, Churchill’s, and Sweat Records next door.

212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami, FL 33137

Haitian Restaurant

2. Naomi’s

Haitian food seems heavy for a tropical climate, but it’s a true product of the tropics. At the sidewalk-side counter of Naomi’s, grab some legume with mayi moulen and picklies (that is, beef stew with cornmeal porridge and spicy slaw, vegan options available), and a passion fruit juice, then head to the airy backyard garden. The roosters and chickens scuttling around your feet are good company.

650 NW 71st St, Miami, FL 33150

Inside Miami City Cemetery. Samir S. Patel
Historic Graveyard

3. Miami City Cemetery

This could be the most forgotten corner of Miami. Wedged between trendy Wynwood and downtown, this historic graveyard has Jewish, African-American, and veteran plots, as well as graves of some of the city’s early luminaries. Many of the headstones are cracked and crumbling, and some crypts have clearly been broken into and hastily patched, but not Carrie Miller’s: “THE BODY OF CARRIE BARRETT MILLER WAS MOULDED IN THIS SOLID BLOCK OF CONCRETE—DECEMBER 4TH.1926. AFTER THE BODY HAS GONE TO DUST HER SLEEPING FORM WILL REMAIN.” It’s not a large graveyard, so you can see the entirety of it in an hour or so, but it’s worth lingering over its little narratives of neglect and decay.

1800 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33132

Vanishing Sport

4. Miami Jai-Alai

Betting away an afternoon at the decrepit old jai alai fronton near the airport is an experience not to be missed. This lightning-fast sport with origins in Basque country remains popular in Latin America but can only be seen year-round in the United States in Miami. This site was once known as the Yankee Stadium of jai alai, but it’s just barely hanging on today. The game is played just three times a week now, and the weekend matinees are attended by only a dozen dedicated bettors. Don’t be afraid to place some small bets at the kiosks outside. Rooting for #3 makes it even more exciting, and you don’t need to understand it to enjoy it.

3500 NW 37th Ave, Miami, FL 33142

The abandoned zoo at Crandon Park. Samir S. Patel
Abandoned Zoo

5. Crandon Park Zoo Ruins

At the end of the long parking lot of Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, past the public beach, is another piece of Miami history, a little-visited corner of the park that used to be a zoo—until August 1980, when it became clear that a hurricane-prone beach wasn’t a good spot for a collection of wild animals. But the remains are there: broad paths, lots of gator-friendly water features, and the ruins of enclosures, both expansive and claustrophobic. It’s also full of peacocks, wading birds, and more invasive iguanas than you can count. On the way back to the mainland, pull off at the city’s most iconic ruin, graffiti-covered Miami Marine Stadium, a seaside symphony of weak concrete, brutalism, and chain-link fences.

6747 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149

Wynwood rewards looking beyond the Walls. Samir S. Patel
Arts District

6. Wynwood

In this arts and shopping district, recently manufactured whole-cloth from a forgotten industrial area, Wynwood Walls is the primary attraction, an outdoor gallery of glaringly bright street art. Explore a little more and you’ll find a massive taxidermy, bone, and stone store called Art by God. But it’s the diversity of food here that really shines. There’s a lot just for food trucks, and a couple of hours can get you Japanese-Peruvian ceviche, chicharrones, and Mongolian duck wings.

2520 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33127


Where to Stay
Vagabond Hotel

If you like the Art Deco style of Miami Beach but can do without the oontz-oontz-oontz and crowded sidewalks, stay on the mainland and book one of the renovated modern-ish motels in the MiMo (Miami Modern) area, a developing neighborhood between Little Haiti and Biscayne Bay. Vagabond Hotel is the nicest of the bunch, with a poolside bar and pleasant, quiet rooms.

Check Prices Or Availability
Find Hotels
Keep Exploring

North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.

Explore
Look closely and wander widely: Parliament Square is full of charm.

Hidden Edinburgh

Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.

Explore

Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.

Explore

Tour de Gastro: New York City

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. To celebrate this vast culinary landscape, we’ve assembled an eat-around-the-world scavenger hunt across the five boroughs. From July 11 to July 25, 2019, we invite you to join us in exploring some of the city's most extraordinary restaurants and vendors. As you journey from a Bhutanese billiards hall to a Chinatown durian stall, post photos of these foods and drinks with the hashtag #TourdeGastro. Visit at least four spots to receive a gift for participating (here's how). Happy hunting!

Explore
Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.

Explore

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

Explore
The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

Explore
The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

Explore
Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

Explore
A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

Explore
The heart of Venice.

Venice

Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

Explore
Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

Explore
The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

Explore
An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

Explore
Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

Explore
View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

Explore
A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

Explore
Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'

Explore

Amsterdam

Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.

Explore

Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.

Explore

Chicago

Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.

Explore

Detroit

Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

Explore
The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.

Lisbon

In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.

Explore

Queens

New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.

Explore

San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.

Explore

Savannah

Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.

Explore